BOTTOM LINE: A moving play about a young black lesbian and the prejudice she faces, She Like Girls is one of the best plays I have seen in a long time.
She Like Girls tells the story of Kia Clark, a teenager in the inner-city who gradually realizes she is attracted to girls, not guys. After learning that Marisol, the girl she has been dreaming about, also "like girls," the two begin a relationship. But their friends harass them, and one girl is disowned by her parents. Fortunately, Kia has a sympathetic teacher who points her in the direction of a gay and lesbian youth group. Kia gradually gains confidence and begins to accept herself, but as this play is inspired by the real-life killing of 15-year old Sakia Gunn in Newark, a random hate crime brings She Like Girls to a sudden, tragic end.
This brief synopsis may make She Like Girls sound like another dreary story about homophobia and hate crimes that you need to see because it is "important." And while this play deals with homophobia, and is (gulp) "important," She Like Girls is also one of the best plays I have seen in a long time. I hesitate to use the word "important" since it generally signifies that a play will be a boring and pretentious lecture. Yet She Like Girls is important not only because of its often ignored subject matter (queer youth of color, living in the inner-city), but because of the way this story is handled. While many off-off-Broadway plays tend to be mixed bags, She Like Girls is one of the few downtown theatre pieces that I recommend without reservation. It is a strong, moving piece of theatre that works precisely because it is so unassuming in its storytelling.
The play, told through a series of brief scenes in Kia's life, moves quickly. Some scenes are so short that not much seems to happen - a teacher stumbles through names while taking attendance, or a mother watches as her daughter gulps down breakfast before rushing off to school. Yet as the play continues, the outstanding performances (especially Karen Eilbacher, who plays Kia), along with Chisa Hutchinson's smart and sensitive script, manage to convey the richness of the lives of two young queer women of color. She Like Girls avoids easy stereotyping and instead brings out the specificity of Kia's experiences, thoughts, feelings, and dreams, and the increasing rejection she faces by those around her.
These short scenes take place all over the set, which is comprised of a few discrete playing areas (a desk, a kitchen table and chairs, a bed), much of it covered in graffiti. While the direction (by Jared Culverhouse) moves the action along and uses the space well, my one complaint is that having a few specific areas hampers some of the staging, pushing some of the more intimate scenes to the edges of the playing space. Yet this is a minor issue, mostly because the cast is so exceptional. While all nine actors give solid performances, three stood out for me. Amelia Fowler is beautifully understated as Kia's mother, and Karen Sours is both defiantly strong and heartbreakingly vulnerable as Marisol, the girl Kia likes. And Karen Eilbacher is mesmerizing as the tough yet compassionate Kia Clark; her monologue to the gay and lesbian youth group is alone worth the price of admission.
Some might complain that the final scene, in which Kia is shot and killed by a random man, seems tacked on (the program cover shows as much, so I'm really not giving anything away). It is extremely hard to tell the story of someone like Sakia Gunn without focusing on the crime itself, as is evidenced by the small amount of news coverage on Gunn - while we know how she died, it is unclear how she lived. And indeed, Hutchinson forces us to confront this horrible crime, to remind us that homophobia still kills. Yet by focusing on Kia's discovery of her own sexuality, and her increasing self-acceptance, Hutchinson remakes this story into one about a strong, defiant girl who stands up for herself and doesn't back down from who she is.
(She Like Girls plays at the Ohio Theatre, 66 Wooster St., between Spring St. and Broome St., through December 30th. Performances are Wednesday through Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm and 8pm, and Sunday at 7pm. There are two additional 2pm performances on Wednesday, December 23rd and Sunday, December 27th , and there are no performances December 24th-26th. The show runs approximately 95 minutes with no intermission. Tickets are $25 ($15 for students), and are available online at theatermania.com or by calling 212-352-3101. For more show information visit workingmansclothes.com.)